SHIP BOTTOM, New Jersey — The New Jersey Senate president and a congressman representing the Jersey shore are asking Rutgers University to cancel planned research that involves blasting the ocean floor with sound waves.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. wrote to Rutgers President Robert Barchi on Friday, saying the testing will harm or kill marine animals, including turtles, dolphins and whales, and will harm New Jersey's crucial tourism industry.
The research is scheduled to start in June off Long Beach Island and comes after an aborted attempt to do the tests last summer that wound up in court.
Rutgers, the University of Texas and the National Science Foundation want to do research on sediments deposited on the ocean floor to study climate change. The plan is to complete a 3-D map of part of the ocean floor by studying the result of changing global sea levels, dating back 60 million years. The data may offer clues as to what could happen as the ocean rises.
But opponents say it also could be a precursor to drilling for oil and gas off New Jersey's coast, which is not allowed.
"The seismic blasts are not only a threat to New Jersey's environment resources, they can be disruptive and damaging to commercial and recreational fishing, which are extremely important to the state's economy, its tourism industry and our quality of life," the lawmakers wrote. "Rutgers is our state's flagship university and should aspire to be a good state citizen by minimizing negative impacts to our residents, businesses and the environment. Rutgers is leading this study, so Rutgers can stop it."
A Rutgers spokesman would say only that the research application remains under "a thorough and exhaustive review" by federal authorities.
New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection opposes the testing, but federal environmental authorities have allowed plans for it to advance this year.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group, has been leading the effort against the testing. She said this year's proposed testing would affect 26 times more marine animals than what was done last year before a mechanical breakdown halted the project in its infancy.
"We are on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend, and these legislators are coming to the rescue of the ocean," she said. "The gauntlet has been thrown down to Rutgers."
If the research cannot be dropped, at a minimum it should be rescheduled for the fall when it is less likely to impact marine life, including six endangered species, they wrote.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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